WYTHEVILLE, VA (WVNS) — 10/5/2020 10:30 p.m. UPDATE: Just two weeks after his release, Jason Lively is already enjoying a new start at life, after he was exonerated on charges of first degree murder by arson.
“Every day is better than the last. Everything in my life since I’ve been out of prison has been absolutely wonderful,” Lively said. “You think about the walk out… But I was kind of numb to it when it first happened because we were told ‘This is going to happen.'”
While waiting for his second chance, Lively was serving a life sentence at Mount Olive Correctional Complex, a place where he says had a “bad way to live.”
“I didn’t have nothing but a pair of boxer shorts, a pair of sliders, and a pen and a piece of paper. That was it,” Lively said. “You get a little rough being by yourself for a long time.”
Billie Blankenship was nothing more than close pals with Lively in high school. But fate brought them much closer together while being far away.
“Something compelled me to reach out to him. Just check on him: that’s all it was supposed to be,” Blankenship said. “He started sending me transcripts and started telling me about it. I knew he didn’t do it, but then I didn’t know how bad it was, like how bad his trial really was.”
Andrew George, the latest of attorneys who represented Lively, said prosecutors tried to pin the crime on Jason through his mother, who worked with the victim, Dr. Ebb Whitely. George said they falsely claimed Jason’s motive was over Whitely stripping her access to a prescription pad, an accusation he called “bizarre.”
What later led to Lively’s exoneration was false testimony in the original trial, and problems with the forensics investigation surrounding state-gathered evidence, according to George. Even former McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney, Sidney Bell, who was the lead prosecutor in the case, stated in a signed affivdavit “Lively is innocent.”
“This is quite likely the strongest arson case you’ll find as a wrongful conviction,” George said. “If there’s… one phrase that I would use to describe what happened here: it was a complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”
Even with the unfair hand dealt to him, Jason still decided to serve a bigger purpose while serving time — by writing a book, a novel, based on his experiences and the letters he sent to Billie.
“He was intelligent… He had a lot of stories to tell,” Blankenship said. “We thought if we could publish that book, it would be some type of story. Maybe other people would pay attention and know who he is, and know what’s going on.”
Since there were so many stories, a second book is now on the way, as a new chapter awaits for them in North Carolina.
“This is where they got me… It took a lot of people to do it. It just wasn’t one,” Lively said. “There were a lot of people that really helped me.”
Lively said he is looking to start a trading company, while doing yardwork for the time being.
His novel, titled Circumstantial Evidence, is available for purchase on Amazon. His second book, also a novel, is finished, but still needs a publisher.
Lively and Blankenship are planning to get married at his mother’s home, as soon as the ring is delivered.
PRINCETON, WV (WVNS) — 9/23/2020 9:30 p.m. UPDATE: A man who spent the last 13 years in prison is now living rest of his life as a free man, due to new evidence overturning his conviction.
Charles Jason Lively was originally found guilty in 2007 for setting a fire in the McDowell County town of Iaeger, killing Dr. Ebb Whitely. But ten years into Lively’s sentence, a glimmer of hope for Lively’s family came from an unexpected place.
Miles away in Bristol, Tennessee, Christina Paster, Tim Roarke, and Stacy Fields, who make the paranormal group Lost and Abandoned Adventures, were watching an episode of Investigation Disocery’s Sins and Secrets profiling the case. When the details were presented, something didn’t seem right to them.
“We decided since we weren’t far away, we’d just go take a look at it,” Roark said.
With permission from local police and firefighters, the team visited the property nine times over the course of three years, investigating in an arena much different than theirs.
“After the second or third time, it was just something we knew we had do it,” Roark said. “Something was not right about what was done. The man deserved justice.”
The group and Lively’s girlfriend gathered any evidence to find justice for Jason, including an insurance payout to the victim’s family for a claim of an electrical fire.
It later prompted three additional fire investigations, including one by the state. All of them concluded the fire was accidental.
“There was no accelerant. There was not two fires set,” Paster said. “It came out of that ceiling fan.”
A motion filed in August 2020 challenged the cause of the fire and the accuracy of the forensic testimony, to which current McDowell County Prosecutor Emily Miller did not oppose. A new trial was scheduled for Wednesday, September 23, but instead, Mercer County Circuit Court Judge William Sadler decided to pave the way for a new start.
“When he said the word ‘exoneration,’ there was not a dry eye in the courtroom,” Roark said. “We all teared up. We knew he was going home.”
A cell phone video showed Lively, now a free man, reuniting with his loved ones and getting a second chance at life, thanks to a set of strangers.
“There is not a better feeling than after two years of us going through this with them,” Roark said. “It couldn’t have went any better.”
“They deserved it,” Paster said.
WELCH, WV (WVNS) — 8/24/2020 1:13 p.m. ORIGINAL STORY: New evidence could mean a new trial for a man convicted of murder. Charles Jason Lively is asking to have his conviction vacated, that he be released from jail and that a new trial be scheduled.
Lively was convicted in 2007 for setting a fire that killed Dr. Ebb Whitely. He has spent the last 13 years in the Mount Olive Correctional Complex. However, new evidence recently came to light which calls his conviction into question.
According to a motion filed on Aug. 14, 2020, state-retained experts challenged the determination of the fire as incendiary. They also challenge the accuracy of the forensic testimony.
Former McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Sid Bell also stated the newly discovered evidence compromises the integrity of Lively’s conviction. Bell was the prosecutor at the time of the trial.
The motion states the new evidence proves the fire that killed Dr. Whitely was not incendiary. Then-prosecutor Bell also said he believes Lively is innocent and would not have pursued conviction at the time as this evidence proves definitively that no arson occurred. Also the new evidence impeaches a witness at the trial and demonstrates there was no crime.
Lively’s lawyer has contacted the current McDowell County Prosecutor, Emily Miller. According to the motion, Ms. Miller does not oppose the motion.